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Born into the Greco-Roman World

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The Apostle Paul wrote that Jesus was born at the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). In the last post, we looked at why Jesus was born at the right time theologically—God, in his providence, allowed sin to increase so that we would see our need for a Savior. But, historically speaking, God was up to a lot more than that.

Luke tells us that Jesus’s birth came about during the time of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus (Luke 2). The truth is that the Savior’s birth coincided with many things in that ancient period that allowed the gospel to take root. For centuries, the Greeks and Romans were establishing a culture that would facilitate the spread of Christianity—through the cities and roads, through common languages, through philosophy. God was preparing the world, through global powers in a time of relative peace, for his Son to be born.

1. Cities and Roads

It is not accidental that we have expressions like, “All roads lead to Rome.” The Greeks established the first major cities in the ancient world. Then, under the united Roman empire highways were built to connect them. Cities like Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica facilitated the flourishing of early Christianity. And roadways allowed missionaries like Paul to spread the message of the gospel between them. Eventually, Christianity established a critical mass, built a Christian culture, and eventually turned society. Early Christians knew that if you win the city for Jesus, you will change the culture. The same is true today. One of the best ways for Christianity to take root again is to focus on cities. Think of what God could do in New York, Los Angeles, and yes, Phoenix!

2. Common Languages

Greek was the dominant language for centuries. Like English today, you could travel through most of the ancient world with a knowledge of Greek. The apostles wrote the New Testament in koine (or common) Greek because it would have been the most accessible language across the culture of their readers. Later, Latin became the language of the Western church. Some of the most important early church fathers—like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine—wrote in Latin. And Jerome’s Latin Bible—the Vulgate—eventually became the standard across the empire.

God wanted his Word known far and wide, and it took commonly spoken languages to make that possible. Jesus was born at the right time when a language like Greek was universal enough for the Gospel to spread. The Bible, in the languages of regular people, turned the world upside down.

3. Clarifying Philosophy

Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle forever rearranged our mental furniture. They changed how people think. And from its beginnings, the early church confessed that all truth is God’s truth. Early Christian apologists weren’t afraid to use language from Greek philosophy when it helped them to clarify doctrines such as how Jesus could be fully God and fully man. These Christians borrowed from Greek philosophy when needed, changed it where necessary, and abandoned it where it was unhelpful—all the while professing Christianity as the true and better philosophy.

Part of Jesus being born at the right time is that the Greeks and Romans gave the city and roads, the language, and the philosophy that would help Christianity spread fast and far. God was providentially working even amongst these pagan nations to make Christ’s birth happen in the fullness of time. But Jesus’s mission isn’t done. We must use the advantages of our contemporary cultures—the resources, technologies, and opportunities God has given us to make the name of Jesus famous across the globe. What part will you play in bringing the good news of Jesus to your city and to our world?

Dr. Brian Arnold serves as the fourth President of Phoenix Seminary. In this role, he combines a love for the local church with a passion for serious, academic theology. He is convinced that seminaries are servants of the church, uniquely positioned to train men and women for mature, biblically-grounded ministry in a rapidly changing world.

Before joining the faculty of Phoenix Seminary in 2015, Dr. Arnold served as the Pastor of Smithland First Baptist Church in Kentucky. Prior to pastoring, he worked as a paramedic for nearly a decade. Dr. Arnold earned his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013 and has since authored two books, Justification in the Second Century (de Gruyter; Baylor University Press) and Cyprian of Carthage: His Life and Impact (Christian Focus), and a number of journal articles. He has been married to Lauren since 2007 and has two children, Jameson and Natalie.

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